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A Chinese Spring

Widespread unrest in China on the scale of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising is still unlikely, but there are hundreds of smaller protests, strikes and confrontations across the country every month, leaving open the possibility that — under the right circumstances — a broad insurrection against the Communist Party could be triggered.

How would China’s leaders then respond?

To find out, Wikistrat engaged 50 of its subject-matter experts to roleplay the deliberations of the Politburo Standing Committee at a time of nationwide unrest in an online, crowdsourced simulation.

Strategic Takeaways

  • If faced with turmoil at home, China will attempt to build nationalistic fervor by pointing to “ominous” outside forces seeking to drag the country back to the past. Stirring up trouble in the South China Sea is the most obvious way to accomplish this.

  • The quicker the party responds to unrest, the better. Immediately meeting some demands, like increasing funding for education, relaxing press censorship or lifting restrictions on protests, could defuse the situation and prevent worse outcomes.

  • Wikistrat’s simulation suggests that Chinese leaders are more likely to make empty gestures in an attempt to placate protesters than pursue actual policy changes.

  • Media suppression is the government’s number-one focus, but its ability to control communications is far more limited than in the past. As one analyst put it, “Protest in the 21st century is more than just people crowding and shouting in a public square.”

  • Globalization works in the CCP’s favor. The more interdependence between the Chinese economy and the global economy, the more freedom of action it gives the Party. The longer the crisis goes on, the more economic pain is inflicted on Western economies, and the fewer options Europe and the United States will have to do anything but support the Communist government.

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